If the No. 2-ranked New Mexico cross country women have a chance to be a serious contender for a national title, they’ll know by the time Friday morning turns into afternoon.
The Lobos host the Mountain Regional at the UNM North Golf Course, as the region’s top competitors square off in a pair of races to determine advancement to the NCAA Championships on Nov. 19 in Stillwater, Oklahoma.
In Albuquerque Friday, some 356 runners from 20 schools will be competing, including 182 women and 174 men.
“It should be a great event, and you have some of the most powerful teams in the country in the Mountain region,” said UNM coach Joe Franklin. “It’s an incredibly deep group, and you’re probably going to see the Mountain teams finish very high at nationals.”
The Lobo women won their 15th consecutive Mountain West title on Oct, 28 in Laramie, Wyoming, with 24 points, 37 points better than runner-up Colorado State. Friday’s race will be far more competitive, with four more top-10 teams — No. 4 Northern Arizona, No. 6 BYU, No. 8 Colorado, No. 9 Utah — in the field.
The big caveat with the UNM women Friday: They will qualify as an at-large entry no matter what happens at regionals. So Franklin plans to rest a couple of his top runners, and it may turn out to be more of an opportunity to see what other top teams have.
Running at the North Golf Course doesn’t present a huge competitive advantage for his runners, Franklin said, other than a chance to sleep in their own beds. But, he said, “It’s exciting just to be here and run in front of family and friends.”
That said, the course setup offers a great opportunity for spectators.
“It’s one of the best spectator courses that I’ve ever been around,” he said. “You can literally walk back and forth and see the men and women multiple times and not have to hustle through weeds and burrs and things like that.”
The Lobos have logged lots of travel miles this season, competing in South Bend, Indiana and Madison, Wisconsin and Laramie.
“Not a lot of nonstop flights,” he said. “A lot of connections, a lot of drives. (The advantage is) being able to be in class on a Thursday night.”
As serious as Franklin and his athletes are about competing, they see to it they have fun as well. In Laramie, while other teams were renting tents to gather in, Franklin rented a nearby square-dance saloon.
“That creates a light-hearted atmosphere,” Franklin said. “(His runners are) already Type A. They’re already at some level OCD. So what we need to do as coaches is make sure we relieve that tension and create an environment that allows them to be successful.”
Six nationally ranked men’s teams are running here as well, led by No. 2 BYU. The UNM men finished sixth at conference championships. Franklin said he’s hoping to qualify a couple of his men’s runners for nationals.
New Mexico State will send six female and two male runners to the meet.
NCAA Mountain Regional, cross country, UNM North Golf Course: Women (6 kilometers) at 11 a.m., men at noon. Live Results: https://rt.trackscoreboard.com/meets/11112210/events